17 May 2019 | Statements

Unitaid and CHAI sign grant to prevent cervical cancer deaths

Photo: Momcilo Orlovic/Unitaid

Geneva – Unitaid and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) today signed an innovative grant that will bring artificial intelligence and affordable treatment and screening to the fight against cervical cancer, a disease that kills a woman every two minutes and disproportionately affects low-resource countries and women living with HIV.

With the aim of achieving US$ 1 screen-and-treat solutions, the $33 million project will deploy improved screening tools, introduce new portable devices for treatment and advance easy-to-use artificial intelligence-based tools for screening of precancerous lesions. Precancerous lesions can progress to life-threatening cervical cancer if left untreated.

Starting in July, the 2.5-year project will be implemented in India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia.

“Early detection of cervical cancer is key to saving lives. The use of artificial intelligence in cervical cancer screening will be a game-changer, and we are proud to be pioneering it,” Unitaid Executive Director Lelio Marmora said. “Unitaid is delighted to join forces with CHAI in reducing the world’s cervical cancer death toll.”

Marmora and CHAI CEO Ira C. Magaziner signed the grant Sunday during the high-level discussion “How to halve HIV deaths”.

“By investing in innovative screening methods and portable treatment devices for cervical pre-cancers, CHAI’s collaboration with Unitaid will not only help overcome one of the most preventable and treatable cancers, but also empower hundreds of thousands of women to lead healthier lives,” Magaziner said. 

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. It affects over half a million women each year and kills more than a quarter of a million. Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually-transmitted infection.

Women in low- and middle-income countries are eight times more likely to develop cervical cancer than women in high-income countries. Nine out of ten deaths occur outside of high-income countries.

Women living with HIV have four to ten times greater chance of developing cervical cancer when infected with HPV than HIV-negative women, making cervical cancer a major threat to the health of women living with HIV.

In high-income countries, several strategies have proved successful in decreasing the cervical cancer burden, including early detection and treatment of precancerous lesions. In remote settings, however, progress has been held back by high costs, ineffective screening methods and ill-adapted treatment devices. A fresh approach is needed in low- and middle-income countries.

By improving access to affordable, high-quality screening and treatment for cervical cancer, the grant paves way for widespread scale-up and builds on Unitaid’s growing investment in management of HIV co-infections. The new generation of tools complements other cervical cancer control approaches, such as HPV vaccination, contributing to the WHO’s targets for elimination of cervical cancer.

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